Keeping a Transition on Track | Article

men waiting for train to Outsouricng ConfrenceThe people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania look to the Port Authority of Allegheny County to get from here to there. The county transit agency provides bus service, light rail trains and incline transportation (those funiculars that whisk you up a steep hillside. You saw one in the movie “Flashdance”) in the steel capital of America.

Maureen Bertocci, the chief technology officer of the Port Authority, and her staff kept the fleet moving with the help of an antiquated mainframe, which it purchased new in 1985. Keeping the fossil up and running was becoming as difficult as hoofing it up Pittsburgh’s hills. Mainframe maintenance was expensive, too, since staffers were constantly spinning their wheels searching for obsolete parts.

Uptime was slowly slipping. By the time the Port Authority decided to outsource, uptime had slid to 72 percent a month.

In December 1998 the Port Authority made a strategic decision: it had had enough of mainframes. It wanted to take a different route and move to client/server applications off an NT server. So Bertocci and her staff decided to outsource all its mainframe applications. These include financial, human resources, payroll, scheduling, vehicle dispatch and vehicle maintenance.

The Port Authority outsourced these to Integris USA, because it was the only company that could support GCOS, the Port Authority’s operating system. Integris is a unit of Bull, an international IT company based in France with nearly 100 locations around the globe. The North American headquarters is in Billerica, Massachusetts. The selection process took just 30 days because of this.

Moving 2,500 Programs

The Port Authority asked Integris to move 2,500 programs and 500 files in 90 days.† Bertocci was amazed at the detailed schedule that the Integris managers drew up: it listed everything, including when the doughnuts were going to arrive (and they were on time.)† So was the entire process.

The transition took place over a weekend. “By Monday everybody was working. There wasn’t one glitch,” says Bertocci.

After the Port Authority shut down that Friday, Bertocci’s staff backed up the mainframe and made two copies. One tape had to make it to Phoenix where the Integris computer center is located. Since U.S. Air, the major airline serving Pittsburgh, is know for canceling its flights, Integris requested the Port Authority to put the tapes on two different routes to ensure it received at least one copy in time to have everything Monday morning.

As it turned out, U.S. Air did cancel one of those flights. The airline put all the cargo from the cancelled flight to the next flight to Phoenix. Both tapes arrived on that plane. So much for careful planning!

Increasing Transaction Speed by 200 Percent

While the executives were excited about the outsourcing contract, Bertocci’s staff was apprehensive. “People who had been here 25 years said it would never work,” she recalls. She was glad when they were pleasantly surprised.

The Port Authority staff was amazed at the results. Integris has accelerated the agency’s transaction speed by over 200 percent from the pokey mainframe. Bertocci says she was able to eliminate a night shift because they were unnecessary with such swift transaction speeds.

Outsourcing eliminated all the mainframe maintenance problems. Integris’ machine in Phoenix is never down. For the last 12 months she says the machine has been available 100 percent of the time, a big increase from 72 percent. (The benchmark is 99 percent.) And now Bertocci needs only two programmers on her staff.

The Port Authority enjoyed savings on its utility bills as well. Large air conditioners kept the computer room cold to keep the finicky disk drives comfortable.

The system was put to the test during the summer of 1999 when MCI/Worldcom suffered a two day black out. Integris is responsible for all disaster recovery. It has sites in three cities. Bertocci felt confident knowing “we are covered in three cities.”

When a problem actually happened, Bertocci reports Integris’ back up recovery system kicked in instantly. “We didn’t miss a beat. And there was only minimal involvement of my staff,” she says.

Supplier and customer talk to each other every other week to make sure everything is on track. Bertocci finds her outsourcer very responsive whenever a question comes up. And she is unaware of the dispute process because they haven’t had a dispute yet.

Bertocci advises any company new to outsourcing to research the alternatives carefully. Make sure the supplier has an experienced staff. “Integris had done this thousands of times and it showed,” she says.

“Everything is 100 times better since we outsourced,” says Bertocci.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Outsourcing saves valuable resources in a number of ways. That includes payroll costs, utility expenses and maintenance problems.
  • Outsourcing antiquated equipment can improve your processing time dramatically. In this case, up time went from 72 percent to 100 percent.
  • Select an experienced outsourcer. It will make the transition easier.
  • Old time employees may be against the decision to outsource. But the results will win them over.

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